Cramming sights into a mini-vacation
February 13, 2007 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Going to Orlando for 2.5 days in about a week. Kennedy Space Center is a definite yes, what else should we see or do?

My wife and I will be in the Orlando area from Friday afternoon until Monday am next weekend. We had originally talked about going to Disneyworld, but after reading about how big it is and child oriented, I think we are going to skip it. Epcot isn’t entirely out, but I have been to Disneyland/MGM/Universal in socal, and my general opinion was “meh”…

We are going to KSC for a day, but I am having trouble decided what else to do. Gatorland sounds cool, maybe even driving up/down the coast for the rest of one day? Is the weather going to suck for doing the beach thing?

So far we only have plane tickets, so suggestions on general places/areas to stay would be good too. We are late 20’s/early 30’s, nature friendly, fun loving kind of folks. No kids. We will have a car.

I have read all the Orlando tagged threads btw.
posted by Big_B to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm from Orlando! Here are my recommendations:

1. Theme Parks
Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure is my favorite theme park. Universal has worked pretty hard to create a park that works for kids and adults, though I think that (with the exception of the Dr. Suess-themed area) it's pretty heavily skewed toward the latter. None of the Universal parks have the ambiance and-- what else to call it?-- magic of the Disney ones, but the rides are top-notch.

SeaWorld is great for a very relaxing park experience. It's mostly oriented around shows, though they've added several big rides in the last few years.

2. Nightlife
Universal and Disney also both have adult-oriented entertainment areas with restaurants, dance clubs, and shopping-- Universal's is called CityWalk and Disney's is called Downtown Disney. It's hard to pick a clear winner in this category... the restaurants at CityWalk are marginally better, but the atmosphere and shopping are better at Downtown Disney. CityWalk has a restaurant by Emeril Lagassee that's fantastic. It can be hard to get reservations for dinner (lunch is sometimes easier) but even sitting at the bar and having an appetizer is a worthwhile experience. The highlight of Downtown Disney is probably Pleasure Island, a huge complex of different kinds of clubs, from hip-hop to comedy. The crowd there is mostely suburbanites on vacation, while the partygoers at CityWalk tend to be a little rowdier (not necessarily in a good way). Downtown Disney also has a Circque du Soliel, which is pricey but probably worth doing once. CityWalk frequently runs a dinner-and-a-movie promotion that offers couples dinner (from a pre fixe menu) at one of the CityWalk restaurants and two tickets to the theater there. It's a pretty good value.

3. Other Attractions
I personally think Gatorland is a little sad, but if you've never been the novelty may make it worth going to.
If you like to shop, Orlando has a huge complex of outlet malls (Beall's) and a new luxury mall (Mall at Millenia). Both are located near International Drive, the main tourist area.
Other "I-Drive" attractions include Ripley's Believe It Or Not and a indoor surfing lessons at the Ron Jon Surf Shop's giant wave pool.

4. Beaches
The weather should be nice enough for a beach walk, but probably too cold for swimming (though I say that as a Floridian... there are tourists in the water year-round.) I advise avoiding Daytona (trashy!) in favor of Canaveral or Indiatlantic. The former is a national park so it's very clean and feels more natural. The latter (if I recall correctly-- I'm not a big beachgoer) has a cute town with nice shops and cafes.
posted by chickletworks at 2:15 PM on February 13, 2007

Since you'll be at the Space Center, head over to Ron Jon's Surf Shop and then hit the beach.
posted by kellygreen at 2:27 PM on February 13, 2007

Gatorland is good, cheesy fun, although I haven't been there since the fire a few months back. I know that they are back open and ready for business, and would surely appreciate your business. As opposed to the other "big" attractions around here, Gatorland continues to be owned and operated by the same family that opened it decades ago, and it still has that fun family-owned feel.

Weather-wise, we are having storms this week but I gather it is supposed to warm up next week. Odds are you will have daytime temperatures in the mid-70's so spending time on the beach should be ok.

You say you are nature friendly, if you are up for a longer drive you could head down to the Everglades. The Shark Valley Visitor Center on US 41 is really nice, but then again you would basically be driving to Miami so that may be a little farther afield than you want to go.

St. Augustine would be much closer (about two hours north of KSC driving up the coast), and is well worth a visit. Aside from the old city itself, there is also the fort (I am blanking on the name) that you can explore. My wife and I spent a weekend up there last year and really enjoyed it.
posted by Lokheed at 2:27 PM on February 13, 2007

Don't miss an afternoon in Celebration. It's the planned community created by Disney - a real town, even if it looks like the Magic Kingdom version of an urban dwelling. You might agree with all the folks that think it's pasteurized, artificial and soulless, but man, is it cute. Beautiful lakefront, good shops, and rumor has it, an occasional Disney employee playing happy resident. I did, on one of my visits, catch a misterious man in kilts walking past the square playing a bagpipe.

It is absolutely worth the visit, doesn't matter if you think it's creepy or if you buy into the atmosphere.

Close to Celebration, but in (tacky) Kissimmee, there's a good Nike Factory Store and a Publisher's Outlet right next door, should you guys be intersted. Kissimmee also has a nice skycoaster, should you be the type free-falling type.

There are many two- to four-hour atractions, like this miniature world of China or something like that - nothing special, but a nice outdoor walk and nice intricate models. Sorry, Splendid China apparently is no more.
There's also a butterfly heaven of some kind around there, but I never went.

If you're outdoorsy you might like to drive north to Winter Park, a wealthy community with one of the nicest shopping streets in the world, Park Avenue, which has even been featured in urban planning books. There are a couple blocks where it's a public park on one side and nice restaurants and shops on teh other. Very nice. There's a good Tiffany museum there too. Most of all, don't miss the Scenic Boat Tour that takes you through narrow canals built to connect all lakes in town. Nice couple hours on the water, under the sun, gazing at mansions.

Bear in mind last time I went to Florida was 5 years ago, so you might wanna check up on this stuff before you drive.

Have fun.
posted by AnyGuelmann at 2:37 PM on February 13, 2007

The fort in St Augustine is the Castille de San Marcos-

I absolutely second Lokheed in the St Augustine suggestion-it's my favorite city to wander around. The local news just did a quick blurb on stuff to do there

St Augustine

it will get you away from all the touristy stuff that you find in Daytona/Canaveral/Orlando.
posted by hollygoheavy at 2:41 PM on February 13, 2007

Oh and if you decide to drive over to Busch gardens, I suggest a visit to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. Amazing. I actually only began to like Dali's work after I went to the museum to accompany family and friends. Art lovers should not miss.
posted by AnyGuelmann at 2:43 PM on February 13, 2007

I just got back!

I was very disappointed by Universal, and strongly recommend Disney/MGM instead of it. Epcot is also wonderful.
posted by Mwongozi at 4:54 PM on February 13, 2007

I second Universal Studio's Osland of Adventure - they have 3-4 awesome roller caosters and great theming. Dr Suess landing and the Popeye Island were eye candy.

I also suggest Busch Garden in Tampa Bay, about a hour drive from Orlando. We did not notice the theming too much - we were too busy running around between the roller coasters. They had about nine when I was there - three years ago. I rememeber the lines were much shorter than in Universal's park. The park also has animal shows and "safari" rides.

I think that Universal Studios is a better park, but if you're into roller coasters you should check Busch Gardens out.
posted by ye#ara at 5:03 PM on February 13, 2007

I live in Orlando (well Winter Park)
As a personal bit of advise, I would stay as far away from I-Drive as possible... to me it is just a cheap tourist trap and I don't see anything that is amazing that you just have to see.
(Disclaimer: most residents of Orlando stay away from I-drive, we are snobs I suppose)
On that note, Downtown Disney Marketplace at downtown Disney is fun and you don't have to pay to get in... they have a Lego store that is very neat if you have kids especially, with lots of Lego sculptures out front.
There is a boardwalk in Daytona that is pretty neat, there is a building about 3 stories tall with a movie theater, restaurants and shops, then down further there are some little rides, a bandshell and other food ect. They have a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company there that was pretty good from what I remember.
Have fun!
posted by ForeverDcember at 8:08 PM on February 13, 2007

For something less theme-parky and more nature oriented, you could try the Disney Wilderness Preserve, run by the Nature Conservancy. There's an interesting nature walk; you'll see plenty of cypress trees, longleaf pine, and enough palmetto bush to last a lifetime. There are usually wild turkey and sand hill cranes, and if you're lucky, perhaps a scrub jay or a bald eagle.
posted by JohnYaYa at 8:24 PM on February 13, 2007

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